The Confrontation of Sexual Difference: Ulay/Abramović
In 1976 Abramović met West-German artist, Ulay (Frank Uwe Laysiepen), and over the next decade Abramović and Ulay (Uwe Laysiepen) collaborated in a series of relational performances during which they referred to themselves as a collective, androgynous being. In these collaborative works Abramović and Ulay questioned the socially defined identities of both femininity and masculinity, and encouraged viewers to participate through their own exploration of gender relationships.
Relation in Time (1977)
In 1977 Abramović and Ulay performed Relation in Time in Bologna, Italy, where they sat back to back, tied together by their ponytails. After sixteen hours of sitting silent and barely moving, they allowed the public to enter the room so that Abramović and Ulay could see if they could use the energy of the public to push their limits even further.
Below is a film explaining the Registration in Time performance, along with video documentation of the piece.
Relation in Space (1976)
In Relation in Space (1976), Abramović and Ulay, both naked, repeatedly ran into each other at an increasing pace, until after an hour and a half they were smacking into one another so hard that Abramović was being thrown to the ground (image 2).
In Imponderabilia, Abramović and Ulay, stood as human doorposts on either side of the narrow entrance to the museum. The narrowness of the space forced visitors to squeeze sideways between them, having to choose whether to face the naked Ulay or naked Abramović (image 3). The focus of the performance is not to emphasize the vulnerability of the nude bodies of Abramović and Ulay, but rather the reactions of the visitors.
Below is video documentation of Imponderabilia.
Breathing In, Breathing Out (1977)
Breathing In, Breathing Out was performed in 1977 in Belgrade. For this piece, which lasted 19 minutes, Abramović and Ulay plugged their noses with cigarette filters, then pressed their mouths together, passing their breath back and forth for as long as possible (image 4). This piece, through the exchange of one breath, is representative of Abramović and Ulay’s interest in presenting themselves as one, androgynous being.
Below is a 30 second clip from Breathing In, Breathing Out:
In this performance Abramović and Ulay stand opposite of each other and make long sounds with their mouths open. Gradually, they move closer and closer to one another, until eventually they are yelling directly into each others open mouths (image 5). The performance, which lasted 15 minutes, continued until both artist’s voices were out of sync and failing from the continuous yelling. This piece demonstrates their interest in endurance and duration, as well as an exploration of aggression between physically present figures, one male and one female.
Below is a ten-minute film explaining the performance AAA-AAA, including video documentation of the performance.
Nightsea Crossing (1981-1987)
In Nightsea Crossing, a series of twenty-two performances between 1981 and 1987. In these performances, Abramović and fellow artist, Uwe Laysiepen, or Ulay, sat silently across from each other in chairs for seven hours a day (image 6). Through this series of performances Abramović and Ulay attempted to portray the continuation of inner consciousness despite exterior motionlessness.